Those of you who have been reading this blog since it’s inception will have noticed that I like playing video games.
To paraphrase Graham Stark, “Saying I like video games is like saying that the Pope thinks God is a neat guy”
While it sounds like an Oxymoron, I really only like good video games. I feel that I have experienced enough of them to be able to tlak about them with some level of dignity – after all, I’ve been playing games since 1992 (good god! I was 6 years old back then)
What makes a good video game?
There’s no definitive answer for that question, as it’s completely subjective. It’s like asking someone what makes a good sandwich, or a good lump of coal. A sufficiently high quality Bread, might be an answer for the sandwich; whereas lumpiness or a the ability to crush it into a diamond in one’s hands, might be an answer for the lump of coal.
With video games – and in my opinion – there are 3 possible things that make a video game great.
- Excellent coding
- Fun to play
- Right-Time, Right-Moment
Look back at your favourite game. What would it have been like if the code was slow to execute? Would you have had a better experience if it ran quicker? What about if the graphics code was that little bit better? How about multiplayer? Did it suffer from any bugs?
Usually, the biggest killer of a great game (at least for me, what with me being a games dev) is poor quality coding. There aren’t that many that spring to mind. Other than Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008. The game that got recalled because of a massive bug that made it impossible to play. Oh, and 24: The Game – a title that seemed to have skipped QA testing altogether.
Sometimes, a video game (or film, or book, of TV Show, etc) gets released at the perfect time. Usually, these are the movie tie-in games that go on to outsell the movie. For instance Goldeneye (which the wiki tells me, sold over 8 million copies) of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (13 million copies)
Think about it. Tommy Vercetti is, basically, Scarface. I know that it wasn’t released at the same time as the movie, but it was released when interest in the original movie was beginning to peak during the early 2000’s (and a full 4 years before the diabolical video game of the movie).
Other titles include the original Pokémon games, Donkey Kong and the
arcade original version of Super Mario Bros. These where released at the perfect times. Pokémon, to cash in on the burgeoning craze in caring for virtual pets (started by Akihiro Yokoi with the Tamagochi).
The name comes from “Tamago” which means “Egg”, and the Japanese pronunciation of “Watch” (Wocchi)
Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. being the perfect arcade – or even pub – games. Most of the people I know who where around when Donkey Kong first came out remember it not being that great. One person I know has told me that there’s a lot of nostalgia placed on the shoulders of that one title.
Fun To Play
I’m not talkin’ “Fun to play for 15 minutes, with all your mates round”. I’m talking “Wow! I just got my ass kicked, but it was fun. I’m gonna try that again. What do you mean it’s been 4 hours since I started playing!?”
Imagine, if you can, that there are no Achievements (or Trophy’s, or whatever) you are just going through the process of travelling from A to B, doing whatever is required to push the story along. Suddenly, the boss appears. You begin mashing the buttons – or whatever. You fight valiantly. Then:
Alas, our hero has been slain. Will you continue?
It was fun. So you choose “yes,” knowing that it’s going to be a massive challenge. Knowing that you’ll probably get your butt whooped again. Knowing that there is little chance of you winning this fight. Knowing that it was really fun trying to beat this boss. Knowing that you’ll get bragging rights, amongst you’re friends, for beating this boss (because no one else, you know has been able to do it).
Knuckles, Streets, Hedgehogs and Gangsters
The Fun to Play type of video game is, and always will be, my favourite. You can keep your Gears of War – it’s fun for about 15 minutes, then the goriness rubs off; you can keep your thinly veiled accounting game (Pokémon series) – I’m not a huge fan of sitting around doing very little, anyway; you can keep you’re naff, clunky engine masquerading as a game with stealth ’em up sections – Too many to count, in my opinion.
You can keep all of those, as I’m about to reel off some of my favourite video games (in no particular order):
- Bare Knuckle / Streets of Rage
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive / Genesis version)
- Super Meat Boy
- River City Ransom
- Mafia 2
- Koei’s Warriors series (Dynasty / Samurai / Troy, with the exception of Gundam)
- Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII
I know that I’m gonna get flak for this one – especially if a certain someone from a certain forum reads this – but as good as VII was …
In fact, I think I’d better stop there for fear of being killed.
Koei’s Warriors Series
As you’ll see from the rest of my list, I’m a fan of button bashers. But not all of them, mind. I’m not a big fan of Street Fighter, for example. Although, that might have more to do with the fact that I never had a SNES, only a Mega Drive / Genesis. I’m also not a fan of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry – basically the same game, but one has more boobs than the other.
Not only are these [Koei] games fun (I don’t ever remember being upset at dying, and quitting out of the game), but they’re SLIGHTLY educational, too. I’ve emphasised the word “slightly” there, as after the first Samurai game, Koei created a whole slew of “What if…” games.
What if Oda Nobunaga was at the Battle of Sekigahara? What if the famous and powerful warriors from the Sengoku period of Japan had to fight the famous and powerful warriors from the Three Kingdoms period of China? What if it was all set if space? What if…
I love a character driven story. Especially ones were the main characters actually stay in character, and don’t change accents after every 3 or 4 words.
I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 4
I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 5
The story of Vitto Scaletta really calls out to me. He’s a believable character, with believable friends, in a believable setting. I can’t comment on the quality of the original Mafia game, as I’ve never played it (it’s next on my Steam list, though). But if it’s anything like Mafia 2, then it’ll be excellent.
Also, I can admit to having a slight Man-Crush on Joe Barbaro. I’d like to think that were I an Italian immigrant in 1930’s America, I’d have a friend like Joe. All right, so he’d lead me down a path filled with crime, hookers, drugs, violence, alcohol and hookers, but I’d be fine with it. Joe really does care about Vitto, and the same goes the other way.
River City Ransom
Aside from the fact that there’s an entire series of comic books and a movie based on this game (see if you can guess which movie it was. Those who don’t know, wont get it instantly), but it was also an amazing game. What if Double Dragon wasn’t … to put it one way: gay?
Seriously, the homoerotic under-current in Double Dragon runs rampant. And I’m not even talking about the Double Dragon film, either.
Super Meat Boy
I can’t believe I just died! I could have sworn that I made that jump!
… I think I’ll have another crack at it.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Yes, I had a Mega Drive (or for those who live on the Western side of the Atlantic, the Genesis), but you shouldn’t hold that against me. I mean, I started off on the NES. Before the Mega Drive, I was on an Amstrad CPC 464 (writing my own software and stuff at the tender age of 6… or 7).
Anyway, Sonic. What a game! I can’t remember the amount of time I spent on this game. I used to carry around a piece of paper with my best level times, and would openly challenge ANYONE to do better. I think the rate was one Mars bar for every level time that you could beat. Great days.
I seem to remember beating Green Hill Zone in under 28 seconds.
Then, of course there was the matter for completing it proper. You had to collect all the emeralds (something that can be done before you finish both acts of Green Hill Zone); which would counteract the work of the evil Doctor Robotnik.
Then there was that ending theme
Bare Knuckle / Streets of Rage
Although, I’m not a vigilante or a member of the Police, I’d have to say that there is nothing more satisfying than taking down an entire evil syndicate including it’s boss (the aptly named Mr. X) with your own, bare knuckles – see what they did there?
My friend, Simon put it best when he told me:
I think, I ended up burning out 4, or was it 5, SoR 2 cartridges back in the day.
I mean, when a game is that good that you play it enough to break it ONCE, that’s a pretty sure sign of an excellent game. But 4 or 5 times!?
And I thought that I played Streets of Rage too much.
That being said, I didn’t play the 3rd one that many times. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt like there was something missing. Something…
So there you have it, a short run down of SOME of my favourite video games ever. It’s not an exhaustive list, as I’m always playing more games. And, yes, I did notice that more than a few of them are retro or retro style games. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With all the technology and libraries available to games devs these days, there’s a temptation to use them all and not worry about the efficiency of the code; but, back then, efficiency was all we had.
If the code didn’t run quick enough, the game wouldn’t be fast enough for people to enjoy it, and if people didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t buy it (or recommend it to their friends) in the first place.
I got all the way through a post containing a list of my favourite video games (one which included Bare Knuckle / Streets of Rage) without mentioning the amazing unofficial remake, which was taken down by Sega earlier on this week.
A game that is so good that I’ve played it for over 6 hours already, and have only had it for just longer than that. A game that has so much replay in it, that I could probably play it for another 60 hours. It’s more than likely, I’ll play it for 200+ hours, though. A game that took ONE GUY EIGHT YEARS to make.
The first person to correctly guess the name of the comic books/movie I mentioned in the section about River City Ransom gets a Mars bar. Seriously, I’ll ship it out to you personally. Answers in the form of a comment.